“But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’ So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, an water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?”
Have you ever been in the midst of what you believed to be God’s will for your life only to find yourself suddenly besieged by difficulties and discouragement? Have you ever received a blessing from the Lord—perhaps even an answer to prayer—only to be faced soon thereafter with an experience that seemed to challenge or undermine your faith and hope in his goodness?
If so, you are not alone.
Not only would countless Christians from throughout the centuries be able to line up to tell their own personal stories of hope turned to fear and potential disappointment, but the Bible also provides its own examples. And none is clearer than that of the Israelites who, having just witnessed the miraculous salvation of God leading them out of Egypt, suddenly found their faith in His goodness and provision tested on nearly every level: entrapment and almost certain defeat as the Egyptians pursued them to the shores of the Red Sea (14:10-31), thirst in the wilderness of Marah (15:22-27), hunger in the wilderness of Sin (16:1-36) thirst once again as they camped at Rephidim and sudden attack from the Amalekites as they encamped in the very place where God had led them (17:8-14)!
In all of these situations the response of the people was to murmur against the Lord and assume that not only would he not provide for them in the midst of their current crisis, but also that, the very occurrence of the crisis itself was evidence that his purposes for their life must, in fact, not be good.
To a certain extent their response is not surprising, and is even understandable. They were raw from the experience of slavery, raw from the entire ordeal that had led up to the exodus, and raw from their journeying, which although accompanied by the Lord, nevertheless had proven profoundly difficult. One might even wonder why the Lord allowed them to experience such challenges in light of their rawness and fatigue? Could he not have just given them a break?
But beneath the surface of what may have seemed to be a merciless scraping at their deepest wounds and fears, lay the tender hand of God working a far more beautiful plan than they could ever fathom, for in each one of these situations He allowed a need to be raised or a crisis to arise not in order to increase their pain, but rather to reveal himself to their unfailing provider, defender and healer. It is not a coincidence that within these chapters we find the miracle of manna (which continued unfailingly until they reached the Promised Land) as well as the revelation of God’s name as The Lord who Heals (14:26) and The Lord Who is [their…and our!] Battle Standard (17:15).
These two names in particular were given in order to draw the Israelites into the confidence that, no matter where they found themselves, no matter what situation or challenge presented itself, they could trust with certainty that the Lord was working not to destroy them, but to heal them; and He would not fail to defend them against their enemies if they simply trusted and obeyed. However they could not have truly come to know this reality without actually experiencing situations in which it proved to be true, situations in which, in the face of apparently impossible odds, the Lord provided an equally impossible solution–like water from the rock, or quail and manna from heaven and defense against enemies more numerous and powerful than they–in order to demonstrate his absolute, steadfast love for them and his unfailing commitment to their total victory over their enemies. In the words of Alec Motyer,
“Had Israel not been caught—baffled, terrified and helpless—at the Red Sea, there would have been no final defeat of the power that had enslaved them.”
In light of this, the Israelites’ reaction in this story is actually particularly disappointing, for it was precisely when faced with this same challenge of thirst earlier that the Lord had not only proven his faithfulness by making the bitter waters of Marah sweet, but in so doing, he also revealed himself to be their Healer. And yet faced with the very same challenge of thirst again they immediately fell back on their fear rather than trust in His faithfulness and His promise.
Do we not also do the same? I know I do, far more often than I care to realize.
The Catechism teaches us that, in the first sin “Man..let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and…disobeyed God’s command…” and that “all subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.”
I am always struck by how profoundly simple yet true this statement has proven in my own life, particularly when, like the Israelites, I am faced by situations that seem to scrape at my deepest wounds and fears. But God has never proven unfaithful in my life, even when I have; to the contrary He has given me every reason to trust that He is my Healer and My Battle Standard.
And thus I pray, particularly during Lent, but also throughout my life that these situations will increasingly become less opportunities to fall into fear or distrust in His goodness and more opportunities in which, through faith in that goodness, his unfailing love becomes undeniably apparent to me and everyone around me.
Will you join me in this prayer?
“…put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” (Ps 130:7)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author, speaker and editor.