Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Massah and Meribah: Test and Quarrel

"Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?"  That's what Moses asks the people he's leading.  Man, I feel for Moses.  God frees the Hebrews from Egypt; Pharaoh's chariots arrive, and what do the Hebrews say?  "We're all going to die!"  God opens a pathway through water; leads the Hebrews to safety, and what do the Hebrews say?  "We can't drink the water.  We're all going to die!"  God shows Moses a way to make the water drinkable, but a short time later the Hebrews begin to run short of food supply.  What do they say?  "We're all going to die!"  So, God brings them not one, but two sources of food: meat and bread.  The camp moves further into the wilderness, leaving their water source behind, and what do they say?  I'll bet you can guess.  "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"  I love Moses' venting to God, "What shall I do with these people?  They are almost ready to stone me."  My venting would have gone a little different, "What shall I do with these people?  I am almost ready to stone them."

I hate complaint.  Now in the name of transparency, I spend a lot of time complaining, so who am I to talk.  But seriously, I hate complaining.  If there is a problem, step up and try to find a way of addressing it.  Don't just complain about it.  Especially don't complain about the people who are trying to do something about it, and even worse, don't complain anonymously.  But anyway, I'll get off my soapbox.

Test and quarrel, what is it about we humans that we can't seem to get out of this self-defeating cycle?  And, like I said, I am not immune to this.  Why is it that no matter how many times God comes through for us, all we can say is "Is the Lord among us or not," just as the Hebrews did?  God can't win.  It doesn't seem to matter what he does.

So what can we do?  Moses gives us an example.  First, he realizes there is some distance between the complaint being directed at him and where the complaint is really going.  God is who the Hebrews have a problem with, and so Moses can differentiate himself from his people.  Second, he serves his people anyway, just as God does.  We cannot fight testing and complaint with more testing in complaint.  Trust me; I've tried.  However, that having been said, Moses does hold the people accountable for their actions.  He names the region where the Hebrews complained Massah and Meribah for a reason.  Every time the Hebrews traveled through there for the rest of time, they would be reminded of who they showed themselves to truly be.  Hopefully that would be a humbling experience, a reminder that God does provide and so we need to trust in him.  But as we all know from our own experiences, testing and quarreling are not easy things to leave behind.

Stopping point: Exodus 18

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