Scripture: 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?” Exodus 17:7 ESV
Observation: Having grumbled against Moses and God regarding bitter water at Marah and lack of meat in the wilderness of Zin, the people now whine about a lack of water at Rephidim (17:1-3). So Moses seeks resolution from the Lord, who tells him to take his staff and gather some of the elders. Then, proceed down the wadi to a rock at Horeb, where the people will congregate, and the presence of the Lord (in the cloud pillar) will settle over them. Finally, strike the monolith (as he struck the Nile), and water will gush from it, quenching their thirst. So Moses follows instructions, and Israel witnesses yet another Yahweh miracle (17:4-6). Hence, Moses names the rock Massah (Hebrew for testing) and Meribah (Hebrew for quarreling) because the people questioned Yahweh’s presence (above verses).
Takeaway: It’s easy to judge Israel harshly for their short-term memory. But that’s what pain and suffering will provoke. Dehydrated and weary of wandering in the wilderness, they question whether God is with them. Perhaps it is a matter of expectation. While they witnessed his strong arm of salvation at the Red Sea, Marah, and Zin, surely their loving God would not keep bringing them to a breaking point. In the Ancient Near East, when worshippers failed to please their pagan gods, their gods would withdraw their presence from the people. Israel likely assumed this causal relationship. Yet, Scripture tells us that hardship and trials result from a fallen world marred by sin, or to reveal God’s glory, or sometimes to test us—to draw us closer to him and mature our faith. But no matter the reason or purpose, the Lord never withdraws his presence from us. Indeed, the Son and the Holy Spirit dwell in us from glory to glory.
So how do we respond when encountering trials? Like Israel, we will have weak moments when we grumble and feel sorry for ourselves. Thankfully, we can find relief when we:
- agree with the Holy Spirit that we are sinning against the Lord,
- recall the other times when he rescued us,
- reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ who is with us,
- rehearse the Father and Son’s promises found in Scripture,
- seek prayer support and counsel from trusted believers, and
- look for signs of his presence amid our suffering.
Indeed, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-30), for he is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
Prayer: Father God, thank you for sending your Son, Immanuel, to dwell with us and now in us, along with your Holy Spirit. So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit when we become consumed in self-pity and renew our minds in your promise that you are present with us and will never let us go? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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