Category: testing

Freed to Follow: an Exodus Journey Week 6


Pentecost 15A

Freed to Follow series

Exodus 17:1-7I have had moments where I have aggressively questioned God’s presence and plan for my life. I have had times where I have I have fought against God’s direction and asked him to prove himself to me and us. These are called “Merribah” and “Massah” times.
Water From the Rock

1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

a.Exodus 17:7 Massah means testing.
b.Exodus 17:7 Meribah means quarreling.

We hear today about what happened out in the desert between God and his people. What happened got a name – or two names. ‘Merribah’: to aggressively question, and Massah: to put God to the proof – to demand that he prove himself to you. I reckon you may have been there too?

Life’s journey just brings these testing, fighting, doubting, and aggressive questioning of God times into our experience.

Whether it is a Year 7 Christian Studies class, a funeral for a man who dies in his early 40’s, a conversation with a spouse going through divorce or a person trying to get their head around one of those big transition times that just happen in life, “Is the Lord with us, or not?” is the Merribah and Massah question.

I led a strange kind of “funeral” yesterday. It is definitely a Massah and Merribah time for a lot of people around this community with the tragic loss of Fulvio Canetti; aged 41, husband and father of two boys – both of whom were up until recently students of our college. It was a strange “funeral” because it was not really a funeral and not really a gathering of the church in any way. It was outdoors at the Lakes with no coffin (because of the long time it takes for coroner’s reports and etc…), and yet we were able to speak of God’s presence and grace and the resurrection of Jesus as hope in these Merribah times.

Pray: Spirit of God, speak into our testing times as we hear your Word and reflect upon it. Amy our meditation on your Word be acceptable in your sight and fruitful for faith, hope and love in our lives. Amen.

Again in this journey of Exodus we are facing a “water problem” as we did just prior to the Lord “raining down” manna from heaven in 15:22ff. But this time the “testing” is of a more serious nature.

People are now not merely lodging a complaint to Moses and therefore, the Lord. No, the people are now fighting against Moses and asking God to prove himself, thereby calling the Lord’s leadership, management and character into real question. I guess this can happen when there is no water and real desperation sets in among a group of people. In these times of real crisis – be it communal of personal, people can say and do strange things in their desperation.
 They are “quarrelling” or “finding fault” with Moses (poor Moses!) and his leadership. The “fault” they find is Moses’ intentions. They accuse Moses of being a shadowy, underbelly kind of man who has their murder on his mind. They think he is masterminding a mass murder in the desert, like some megalomaniac cult leader or something.

Moses points out that as they accuse him of such underhanded and evil intent, so they actually accuse the Lord of the same things because Moses is only a mere servant of the Lord. The Lord is plotting the course of their lives, not Moses! The people don’t seem to pull back from their fighting accusations. They don’t seem to realise that when they pull down a servant of God they are directly offending and rejecting the Hand that feeds them.
 Leadership note here: grumbling, accusation, fighting and questioning of one’s integrity come with the territory of leadership! Moses will constantly have to deal with this fault finding of him by the people and on occasions it turns very nasty as he even will be on the edge of being stoned to death by these people! (Numbers 14:10). Moses has now joined an elite club of servants of the Lord who have been on the receiving end or a threat of or actual stoning by God’s people – David (1 Samuel 30:6, Jesus John 10:31, Stephen Acts 7:58, Paul Acts 14:19).

Moses’ response to this now different kind of testing is also different than previously. Notice how Moses now gives vent to his own fears as he speaks not of “God’s people”, or “my people”, or even “your people”, but “these people”. It is as if Moses is teaming up with the Lord and accusing these agro people of wrong doing. He is siding with the Lord and getting a small taste of what it is like for the Lord to have to knock these troublesome people into shape for their vocation of being a blessing to the whole world!

The Lord responds to the tricky situation of angry people ready to exact their desperate anger on Moses by doing something very visible once again. Moses is directed to go “in front” of the people with witnesses in tow (the Elders). They are all going to get good seats in the house to see again that the Lord is with them and responding to them and keeping his promise to get them to their promised destination.

Moses is instructed to use the same rod with which he “struck” the waters of the Nile to now turn this rocky land into a stream of gushing water. There is no doubt as to the Lord’s message here. He has provided them with water from dry land, as he also provided them with dry ground through the water at the Sea of Reeds. He is the Lord. He is still with them. Moses is indeed his servant. God takes responsibility for the plight of his people and handles their anger and doubt and deep questioning of his integrity with a show of power and gracious care.

In all of this, the question any person or any community asks when hard testing befalls them is uttered by God’s people at their Merribah and Massah time. “Is the Lord with us, or not?”

In this very human question they are raising serious doubts as to the Lord’s honesty, integrity and will regarding his stated promises to deliver on his promise to get them to the new land, give them a great name among the nations and keep them alive and growing as a nation, as he once promised to their father, Abraham (Genesis 12). They find fault with God’s leadership, management and plan for this to happen and they ask him to show himself and his will again – not in friendly terms but doubting, harsh and distrustful terms.

Testing times bring out the best and the worst in people. When we ask that question in real angst, “Are you with me, Lord, or not?” in our Merribah and Massah, whatever they be – broken marriage, terminal illness, violent threat, economic hardship, tragic loss, personal weakness, and whatever other place we stumble across on our desert way of Jesus’ cross, Moses shows the way faithful people respond to their Lord.

1) First, he gives voice to his own fears.
2) Secondly, he seeks the Lord on the issue. Moses seeks the Lord’s word on  
    the situation (“What should I do, Lord?),
3) He confesses faith in the Lord (Why do you find fault and fight with the
    Lord? He asks).

What have you done when under the pump in life? These three things or other things?

Moses trusts that the Lord can receive his fear, pain, complaint and anxiety. He tells God what is what.
 Moses truly reaches out to the Lord and prays that prayer in the heart, “Lord, teach me your way here”. He actually seeks God’s word on in his Merribah and Massah time.

Moses is on the Lord’s side. He does not give in to the people’s fault finding or aggressive questioning of him and the Lord. He lives through the testing by confessing faith in the Lord when there is no easy reason to do so.

Moses does these things for himself, but also for the greater good of the people. Moses “nails his colours to the mast” and declares his loyalty and trust in the Lord as he asks the Lord what he should do with “these people”.

So, where are you thins week?! Aggressively doubting the Lord for what he did not do for you or placing your life in his hands anyway?

Wherever you are and however Merribah and Massah are God seems so very able to absorb all the grumbling, complaining, fault finding and aggressive questioning his people throw at him. Most often he responds to their need with grace. Now and again he responds with judgement. This will happen later in the journey after Mt Sinai when the covenant between God and the people has been made at Sinai.

Here he gives them what they need – not just the water but a sign that he was still there with them and for them, wanting them to live and continue the journey with him.
Jesus stands up at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (which traditionally remembered this Merribah and Massah moment in the desert) and proclaims those famous words recorded in John 7:37, “If anyone thirst, let that person come to me and drink”. He is saying that he is the living water from the rock. He is the water that quenches a person’s thirst for life for ever in all the Merribah and Massah moments of our doubting desperation and questioning of God’s integrity.

Paul says that Jesus is this rock of living water that sustains God’s people. Christ was in that desert place, in that questioning of God’s character, in that desperate fear and worry – Jesus is the life-giving stream from the most unlikely place – a dry, dead rocky source. (1 Corinthians10:4).

When the testing time is upon us, or a testing time has happened to us and we are still dealing with it, we have the choices of questioning the Lord and his leadership, his management, his church, his leaders (which may be necessary at times because the church is only full of imperfect human beings!) or doing those things Moses did – telling God how things are (an act of trust), seeking the Lord’s Word and confessing faith in his goodness given in Jesus, the Man of Sorrows and the wounded healer of our souls. Faithfulness to the God of life and promise is in these things somewhere………

In the end, this event gets this response from the priests, poets and song writers of God’s people…
In the end, we have a calling – to not harden our hearts and block our ears as Pharaoh did but to come and worship the Lord at Merribah and Massah…..

Psalm 95

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,[a]
as you did that day at Massah[b] in the wilderness,

9 where your ancestors tested me;

they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;

I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,

and they have not known my ways.’

1 (But) Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving

and extol him with music and song.

3 For the LORD is the great God,

the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,

and the mountain peaks belong to him.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship,

let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

7 for he is our God

and we are the people of his pasture,

the flock under his care.

Through Moses the Lord really turns this question back around on us. We ask, “Are you with us or not, Lord?” The Lord and his servant Moses really respond with a question back at us, “Are you with the Lord, or not?”Footnotes:

Freed to Follow – an exodus Journey Week 5


• Remember, Exodus is all about two things – knowing God and vocation. Exodus is an account of knowing God through personal experience and how it is that God would call a nation to be the community through which he would bless the human family

• We left the Israelites in a joyful moment of victory on the shores of the Sea of Reeds as they sung the song Miriam and Moses wrote for the occasion, as they saw the bodies of the once mighty Egyptian military floating in the shallows after the Lord had comprehensively won the battle on their behalf. They had to put fear away, stand at the ready attentive to the Lord’s work in their midst and simply be still and know that he is the LORD and he wins the victory for them. At the end of it they all “feared the Lord and trusted Moses his servant”(14:31)

• After the celebrations of song and tambourine, it is off into the desert on this epic journey that will shape a nation into their vocation – to be a people through which God blesses all nations.
• They head east and travel through the North Western part of the Sinai Peninsular (Desert of Shur)

• It would be a constant worry to have to find water and food for this huge community on the move – especially in the harsh environment in which they were called to travel. They have their first experience threatening moment as they arrive at a water source after three days of travelling in the heat, shade less desert with all its dust and rocks and the water is brackish. (15:22-24)

• We get this first “grumbling” moment. There will be many of these throughout this long journey of faith (Exodus 16:2; 17:3; Numbers 14:2; 16:11; 16:41).

• These are testing times! The point of the testing is trust – trust in the Lord. This fledgling nation of blessing will be tested on this one issue over and over again. Moses makes the point of this hard testing clear in verse 26: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep his decrees, I will not bring any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, because I am the LORD who heals you”.

• So, it is clear: this community will have to learnt o trust and obey if they are going to be the people they were created to be – a people of life and healing and blessing.

• Soon after this first dice with grumbling and doubting the LORD, the LORD ends the testing and brings the healing – they come to an oasis with 70 palm trees and 12 natural springs! The testing only lasts for as long as it needs to before the promised blessing is given again.

WEEK 5 Exodus 16:2-15 (TNIV)

The bread from heaven ( numbers relate to THOUGHTS – the bullet points below)

2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron1. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death2.”

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.3

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was4, 5. 6

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.

1. Now water is no longer the immediate problem! The problem is food. How will this community on the move being shaped by God to fulfil their role in the world survive the testing times they face? This is an obvious question for any person on the journey of faith in God. How will I continue on in faith in God? We are about to find out that God will feed the people.

2. As the people become more and more skilled at complaining as they express their lack of trust in the Lord (through Moses), they look back to “the good old days”. It is a common ploy we humans use to express our doubt about the present. The Israelites are very good at it. They know how to make a good whinge!

3. The LORD responds to the complaint not with harsh judgement but free gift – the gift of bread and meat for his people in the desert. But there is something going on here. There is that continuing shaping and testing of the people by the LORD. He gives his gifts for a purpose. He gives his gifts out of commitment to his people and love for them, but also to shape them so that they fulfil their calling as his holy people of healing and blessing in his world.

4. The deal is this: The LORD will rain down bread and birds to eat in daily portions only. There will enough for everyone everyday and enough for the rest day (Sabbath). God sustains his people on a day by day basis. Can you see that this demands trust from the people’s point of view? They are not to take more than the allotted amount of bread (manna) or Quail – only enough for daily need. The manna will not store – except on Friday afternoon when it will be OK overnight for the Rest day.

5. For the most part, the people trusted God’s daily provision and his Sabbath Day food. Both took trust – trust that the Lord would provide what he promised and that there would be enough for his requirement to rest together with him on the Sabbath.

6. Some people could not trust God on this daily basis. They decided to take control of their life and needs by gathering more then was needed and trying o store up for themselves more then enough, “just in case”. Just in case? Just in case God could not be trusted and did not follow through on his daily provision. Greed is lack of trust in God’s provisions for us.

• This reality of God testing his people’s trust of him is an ongoing stream in the bible. In Deuteronomy 8, we are told later by Moses that this whole Manna experience was a teaching thing. Through this daily provision of food for the journey, his people learnt that no human being or community can live only by bread, but actually, we can only truly live by the very Word that comes from God’s own mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).

• In Psalm 78, the writer describes this provision by God in the form of manna as “grain of heaven” that “rained down” on the people. It was “and “food in abundance” bread of angels” (Psalm 78:24-25). Yet, in spite of this magnificent food from God himself, the people still doubted and rejected God’s nurture and sustenance. They did not believe (Psalm 78:32).

o How has the LORD been providing for you and how have you been doubting him and his promise to keep you?
o We have so much in this place. Maybe it would be easier in some ways to actually trust the Lord if we had little and were travelling in a desert in tents?
o What do you find it hard to trust God for – “things” or relationships and well-being and future?

• Have you done the “murmuring” thing against God lately? Did it lead you to want the “good old days” or just to get out of the situation asap?!

• Israel’s rejection and doubt of God was made good by the new Israel – the Messiah – Jesus Christ;

o As Israel wandered in the harsh desert for 40 years, so he entered the desert experience for 40 days where he was also put the harshest test by the Devil himself. The test was whether or not he would trust his Father and fulfil the promised plan to defeat sin and death once and for all. He did so we do (Matthew 3:15). Jesus even cited those same words of Deuteronomy 8:3, reiterating that we cannot truly live this life or our God-given calling by mere food and drink and the possessions of this world, but only by hearing every word that God speaks in his Word. The Word of God sustains our life – not anything less.

o Jesus is far more than merely an obedient Israel. He is also the new and greater Moses who has begun a new age and a new relationship between the Lord and his new people – now Israelites and non-Israelites. Moses gave the people the Law (Torah) of God and was a mediator between God and the people. Jesus gives the new LAW (Matthew 5-7 – the Sermon on the Mount) and also feeds the people in the wilderness (Matthew 14:13-21).

o Jesus is the “true Manna”, the “Bread of Heaven” (John 6:48-51). Jesus is the food from heaven himself who gives his own flesh and blood for the life of the world.

• St Paul reflects on this manna episode in the desert in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, where he holds up the people and their doubting as something not to engage in. Somehow, Jesus himself was present in the desert and was the “Rock from which they drank”.

• Paul uses this doubting moment as a warning to New Testament Christians – this is a warning not to swap God’s provision for other things in an attempt to sure one’s life up. He says “they became idolaters and engaged in immorality. His lesson is no “shun the worship of idols (1Cor 10:14) because it is impossible to partake of this bread of heaven (Jesus) at the altar and at the same time partake of demons at another table.

• The Promises and calling of the Lord is received on a daily needed basis and includes rest with him in his presence among his people. This however, can be rejected doubted and lost.

o How are we doubting God’s ability to sustain us as church and choosing to live by bread alone?
o Where do you go back to when under the pump?
o What is the Lord calling you to ignore, dismiss or reject in order to participate in the body of Christ?