In the midst of our doubt and skepticism the gospel brings faith through meeting our soul’s deepest needs. Though we continue to test God, still our needs are provided for with great generosity and patience.
Quarreling with man & Testing God
Here in Exodus 17:1-16, for the 3rd time in 4 complaints they wonder whether Moses has brought them out to the wilderness to kill them, this time bringing the kids and cattle into the charge. They are putting him on trial as evidenced by Moses’ fear that they will stone him. But who are they really putting on trial? Moses gets at this in v 2 when he asks why they’re complaining against him, but then reveals that what they are really doing is testing God.
What does it mean to test God? In v 7, “Moses named the place Massah (which means “test”) and Meribah (which means “arguing”) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?”” But asking this question is not testing God in and of itself. It is when they ask this question and demand that God prove Himself by offering a concrete sign. This is setting God up, trying to force God’s hand to find out whether He’s really there are not. When we test God we hold Him hostage, put God in the role of servant, at the beck and call of us when we’re in a bind. It’s when we make our belief in Him contingent upon this kind of demonstration that we’re testing God.
Jesus is tempted to do this when he was in the desert with the devil. He’s asked to jump off the top of the temple and when God sends his angels to rescue him it will be a testimony to God’s power.
Why is it so tempting to put God to the test? I think it goes to how we want someone or something else to blame for our problems. We don’t want to be guilty so we find someone else responsible and we can always find a way that God has a part to play if we call upon Him to act in a certain way and He doesn’t.
God is not done
The people are done with Moses and Moses is done with the people. This comes out in the question, “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!” How does God answer? Not in words, but in action God answers. What should we do with these people? Those who are trying to kill you, who are ungrateful, undeserving, forgetful, faithless people? I’ll tell you what we’re going to do with these people. We’re going to go meet their needs. Come on, let’s go minister to them and provide their basic needs. The people might be done. Moses might be done. But tell somebody, “God is not done!” God’s not done with these people yet! God’s not done with you yet! Despite your unworthiness, even though you’re not grateful, God has not lost His patience! God’s love is long-suffering.
God comes through again and again
The story of Exodus is a period of an intense week followed by 40 years but you can read it in one sitting in just a couple of hours. And if you do you see how faithful God is. The people are enslaved to the most powerful empire in the world and God faithfully and patiently works out his plan to set them free. They get to a dead-end and are stuck between the Red Sea and an invading army and He comes through again and splits the sea and drowns the army. Then they encounter a bitter pool and God makes it sweet, next they are hungry with no food in sight and God provides manna and quail. Tell your neighbor, “God is faithful.”
People doubt God again and again
And so today they run into another problem – thirst. They have no water. This is a real problem, so how do they respond? You would think with all of the ways God has provided and shown Himself to be faithful that their response would be like, “ok this is serious but so is God. Everything is going to be ok because we serve a God who cares about us. God delivered us from slavery to bring us to the Promised Land. He has given us no reason to believe that we will be left to die in the desert. There is no water in sight, but with God all things are possible.” This would seem to be how the people would respond, right? But it’s not how they respond. Over and over again when the people of Israel run into a problem they doubt God and even curse Him. The first time something goes wrong they doubt God and test Him. Yet every time God comes through anyway, patiently loving His people and showing up when they are in need. And they never give Him credit and when something else goes wrong they freak out.
They need to be liberated, He liberates them. They need a way out of a problem, He solves it. They need to be fed, He feeds them. They are thirsty, He provides water! God provides for His people every time they are in need, 45 times in a row but on the 46th time when it looks like they won’t have what they need how do they respond? “Where is this God when we need Him, He’s never here! You can’t trust this God, He always lets us down!” When you read this you can’t help but think how stupid these guys are. But hold on…
The story of Israel is the story of us
It’s like you’re walking through a friend’s house and see a terrible portrait on the wall and you wonder why anyone would have a picture of such an ugly person in their home. . . then you realize its a mirror.
The story of Israel is the story of us. We do the same thing that they are doing.
Why is it that when you read this story you aren’t worried? Why is it that they keep freaking out and you are keeping calm? Because you have a bird’s eye view and are able to see the big picture. But when you’re actually in the story and not reading the story it is hard to tell. When you’re in the details is when you encounter the devil. Up here from the bird’s eye view, it is easy to see God’s love and care for us, but when you’re down on the ground it’s easy to forget God’s love and think He has left us and forsaken us.
Our memories are flawed. When someone criticizes you in a hurtful way, it stays in your memory 100 times longer than when someone complements you. It happens when you fail at something. You’ll remember that much longer than when you succeed at something. And when we have an unanswered prayer, it sticks in 100 times longer than when God came through for us. What God did for us 20 minutes ago feel like 20 years ago and when we prayed and heard nothing 20 years ago it feels like 20 minutes ago.
Strike the Rock
“The whole point of and reason for this narrative is God’s provision for His people in the most unlikely of all the spots in that region, the top of a rock.” If you’re looking for a well or where you can dig for water, you would never look on the top of the biggest rock you can find. Yet God’s grace tends to flow from the rockiest hardest places. In the desert, all other sources of water dry up and you have to turn to God.
When things are going well, you get your joy from that pretty girl, from that wonderful boss, from your big truck or your fast car, from your big house, or your well-behaved kids. But each of these places is a shallow place to draw water. They will always dry up. The most wonderful wife will let you down, the greatest husband will disappoint you. The mortgage on the most wonderful house will weigh you down. The fastest car will break down or crash, and how many know that the most well-behaved kids will misbehave. But when you are in the desert and your boss is on your back, your car is broke down and you don’t even have a house. When your girl is nagging and man is lazy you can’t turn to those other things for your joy, so where are you going to turn? Tell somebody, “Strike the rock.” The rock of God has the living water that will never let you down.