This week we continue our Lenten series, “When God Provides.” Last week Pastor Cameron explored the call of Abram and how obedience sows blessing in our lives and the lives of others when we take responsibility and ownership for what God has entrusted us with. In this week’s text, we look at how we respond when it seems that God’s provision comes up short.
Before we explore the text, let’s quickly review what has just happened in the Exodus narrative. In chapters 13-14 we read about Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. In chapter 15 are the twin songs of Moses and his sister Miriam, both of which praise God for the goodness and faithfulness God has shown to the Hebrews. From there, they continue their journey toward Mt. Sinai, where they hope to worship God. The chapter goes on to tell the story of God providing water for the thirsty Hebrews by making a bitter spring sweet. Chapter 16 sees God give the hungry Hebrews a daily supply of manna and quail. Now we arrive at today’s text in the beginning of chapter 17.
The Hebrews are still making their way to the place God commanded them to go. They are still following in obedience. They arrive at a place called Rephidim and find that there is no water for them there. They are in the midst of a great wilderness and there doesn’t seem to be an oasis around. That’s bad news.
They somewhat aggressively confront Moses and demand that he provide water for them and their herds of cattle. They are blaming him for the desert being dry! They also seem to think he has some secret stash of water he’s hoarding from them, or else some magic power to conjure up water at will. They accuse him of having no plan, of bringing them out of Egypt to die of thirst in the desert (sure, they were enslaved in Egypt, but at least they weren’t thirsty!).
Moses cries out to God for help. The people are about to get violent and he has nothing to slake their thirst. God comes through. He tells Moses to take some of the elders and go ahead of the rest of the people. He’s to take his staff with him, the same one he struck the Nile with in Egypt, and strike the rock. Moses does all this and when he strikes the rock water comes out of it. They are saved!
But Moses can’t quite shake the way the people behaved. He names the place where they camped “Testing” and “Quarreling” to remind them of who they were in that place: a people who asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
It sure seems like the Hebrews have a short memory. Tremper Longman III, an Old Testament scholar at Westmont College, reminds us just how forgetful they were: “In fewer than six months the Israelites have witnessed ten plagues, the pillar of cloud and fire, and the sending of food and manna from heaven; yet their real question came down to this: ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”
That’s a powerful question. “Is the Lord among us or not?” It is a question we often ask out of fear and anxiety. It tempts us to test and try the Lord rather than trust and obey the Lord. Questioning God is always okay. We aren’t God and we can’t know everything God knows. The Psalms are full of questions for and about God. But sometimes we allow our questioning to turn into demands or ultimatums. That’s not healthy for us.
We put ourselves in the position of deciding how and by what evidence we will determine God’s presence or absence. We try to coerce God into performing or providing a certain way. We think we can trick God or force God’s hand in some way. We demand that God jump through our hoops and become answerable or accountable to us. This is the exact opposite of how the relationship is intended to work.
When we find ourselves wondering if God is present with us, if God is going to provide for us in this moment of need, I suggest we take a moment to look back at what God has already done. If we can do that, take a moment to review our history with God, I think we will find that God has always come through for us in hard times before. God has been faithful. Why, even though the present crisis seems new or different, should we expect that God wouldn’t come through again?
“Is the Lord among us or not?” It seems like a hard question to answer in the midst of trial or suffering. The answer is clearer, however, when we look at where God has been. When we look back, we find that God has always been among us. As long as we have gone where God has directed, been obedient to what God has commanded, God has never left us. The only answer to the question then becomes, “Yes. Yes, the Lord is among us.”
When things aren’t making sense, we try to take the reins and make sense out of them. John Goldingay, an Old Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary, asserts, “Sense lies in trusting that things will work out of we do what God says.”
Some questions to consider:
• When was the last time you saw God provide for you in a powerful way?
• What did that experience teach you about God?
• What did that experience teach you about yourself?
• As you look at whatever present trial you face, where do you need God’s provision?
• Where is God inviting you to trust and obey?
• How might you express your trust that God will provide for you now, like God has provided for you in the past?