1From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Most of us probably take the simple necessity of water for granted. When Hurricane Irma came through south Georgia a couple weeks ago, the shelves that usually held bottled water at the local grocery stores were empty. At home we typically drink bottled water, but now we had none to buy and bring home to drink. However, we still had tap water – as much as we could want or need. So many people in our area (and other areas affected by the storms) did not even have that. Many households in our rural area depend on wells for water, which depend on electric pumps. We have city water service, and so we were not threatened with a loss of water when the power went out.
In other words, I am personally spoiled! Not only do I have clean water that flows right into four rooms in my house (kitchen, laundry room, and two bathrooms), but I have the means to buy “spare” water to drink. It is humbling to think about the fact that I have no idea what it really means to be thirsty.
However, I do know what it means to be spiritually thirsty – to feel so desperate for God’s presence and grace that I feel as if I would die without it. Though the Israelites were physically thirsty, they were as much in need of a spiritual water from God as anything else. God had already delivered them from slavery, parted the waters of the sea to provide them escape from the Egyptians, and was leading them in cloud and fire. They had seen the mightiest works of God’s power, and yet they let their thirst derail their trust.
Now, I admit – it is easy for me to speak about their thirst this way while I am sitting here with my bottle of water and my Diet Coke. There are many, many people in the world who are thirsty and in need of clean, fresh water and it is not because they are not trusting God enough for the water. So, do not misunderstand me here. In those situations, there are many factors at play: drought, intense poverty, corrupt governments that withhold resources, etc. But this is not one of those situations. This is a situation in which God is expecting the Israelites to trust completely in God’s saving power and provision as they wander in the desert. Yet, they are failing to realize that the God who has delivered them thus far will continue to lead them into grace and abundance. God has not, in fact, brought them into the desert to die, but to fulfill the promise of life and blessing God made to their ancestors
The very fact that the people go to Moses and demand water from him demonstrates the failure of the Israelites to trust God and grasp what God is doing. The people are not calling out to God to provide water for them. If Moses had not intervened, then the people would have remained thirsty – in body and in spirit. The seemingly sarcastic refrain from the end of this passage, “Is the Lord among us or not?”, indicates that the Israelites had taken God’s power and providence for granted. The depth of their thirst became more real to them than the depth of God’s grace.
This is what we must learn from this passage. This passage is not about water and thirst. In other instances, the problem for the Israelites will be a lack of food, or fear to enter the Promised Land, or the threat of foreign enemies. But the root issue is always the same – who will provide? Whom can we trust? And God keeps providing water, manna, quail, leaders, and victory, all to remind them that they can trust God. Trusting in God is like drinking a tall, cool, crisp glass of water on a sweltering hot day. Trusting in God refreshes us, renews us, and gives us life. This is true whether we are trusting that the faucet will drip or trusting that we will make it through the desert to the Promised Land.
Prayer Focus: Is the Lord among us or not?
There is so much bad news around the world that we might sometimes echo this question of the Israelites. We must never read the story of the Israelites and judge them too harshly, for we have all had doubts about what God is doing in the world, whether in our personal lives or in the greater world situation. We should, however, take heart from God’s patience with the Israelites and use their story to inspire us to trust in God. The Lord is among us and still at work in the world, even when it seems as if the world is deteriorating around us. This week pray for our world, asking God to allow more and more people to see and receive the good news of God’s kingdom. We know that Christ has overcome the world and that the kingdom of God will prevail. Just as God would not allow the Israelites to die of thirst in the desert, God will not allow us to destroy the kingdom God has promised. So take heart and pray for a world that is being redeemed and renewed, even in the midst of its present brokenness and despair.
Meditation Focus: He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord.
The word Meribah means quarreling and the word Massah means testing. How sad to have a place named for a negative experience. What a blessing it would be to rename this place God Provides or Springs of God. Perhaps you have had an experience or a place or a harsh word spoken to you that needs to be redeemed and renamed in such a way. Maybe the negative name or memory associated with this experience is because of something you did or because of something someone did to you. This week, allow the God who stood before Moses on the rock to stand before you in your memory of this negative experience. Picture the healing streams of God’s mercy flow into your memory of this negative experience. Listen as God speaks a new name over your Meribahs and Massahs. What is that new, redemptive name? How is that mercy flowing from the strong rock of God into your life? No longer be defined by the negative experiences of your past, but live into the blessings of renewal and healing.
Journaling Focus: The Israelites journeyed by stages.
I love this little phrase found in verse one of this passage. God did not take the Israelites straight to the Promised Land after they left Egypt. And why not? Well, eventually the delay would be the result of the Israelites’ lack of trust in God’s ability to give them victory over the inhabitants of the land. This would delay them forty years. But it also seems that God led them stage by stage because they were not ready yet for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They needed to learn to trust God more and more along the way. Perhaps God’s intention was not for them to take forty years to get to their destination, but that there was still a time of preparation needed for them in the desert.
We move through life and our faith journeys in stages like this as well. We enter one stage of life, experience struggle, grow from these experiences, learn to trust God more, and then enter into another life stage and repeat the growing process all over again. This week reflect on the stage you are at in life and in your faith journey. What brought you into this stage? In what ways is God challenging you to grow and trust more? What valuable life lessons have you learned in other stages of life? What future blessing might God be preparing you for at this time of your life?
Unto the Least of His is a ministry in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church that works to provide fresh, clean water to villages in Africa. This week, check out their website, www.totheleast.com. Discover how you might support this ministry and become involved in their life-saving work!
Breath Prayer: Father, quench our thirst for you.