Freed to Follow series
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?”
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…..
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: