It’s a hard life, being in charge. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the idea when God first suggested it – I tried my best to prove I was completely the wrong man for the job, that I wasn’t a great speaker or leader, that my past must be an issue, that nobody would actually listen to me. I was happy with the sheep, you see. I’ve always said “You know where you are with sheep” – except when they wander off & get you talking to burning bushes! So, here I am, here we are, wandering along together in the wilderness trying to work out where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do.
And the thing is, the thing is, everyone expects me to know. They think I’ve got the inside gen. Truthfully I do hear from God, and try my best to do what he asks, but I’d have thought He must be getting really cheesed off by now with the constant complaining. I know I am. I mean, talk about ungrateful! God’s rescued them from their life of misery, fear and slavery to bring them into the promised land, but all I hear is
“Are we there yet! We’re hungry! You hate us – you wish we were dead!” It’s doing me crust in!
To be fair, our relationship hasn’t been an easy one. From the start, no matter how much I’ve said about the power and possibility we have as a people, all they could think of was bricks to be made without straw and how everything I did, everything God asked me to do, made Pharaoh even more angry and brutal in his treatment of them. “You’ve made us like a proper stink to Pharaoh and his servants,” they cried. “You might as well have just given them swords to kill us with!”
Then, pretty much straight after God parted of the Sea so we could escape, after the dancing, singing and general partying, the grumbling began. The wilderness isn’t a hospitable home, I know, and for three days we traveled without water. And then, when we found some & used the last of our energy to run to that oasis with thickened tongues and dust-filled throats – the water was foul and bitter. So they complained. I cried out to God, and He got me to throw some wood in – and bang, the water was sweet.
Happy days – or so you’d have thought.
After a few days more of travel, their off again. I mean, it’s worse than taking kids. “There’s no food,” they said. “We always had food in Egypt.” And again they murmured and mumbled and fussed and grumbled. So God sent quail in the evening and bread in the morning. God literally starts raining food from the skies. I mean, how cool is that? We don’t have to do anything but collect it and eat it! God could have easily said “You crack on a find some,” or “here’s a large lump of food – now carry it around with you!” but no, wherever we wander it just turns up. And it’s delicious too!!
And then we got here, deep in the wilderness, the middle of nowhere, and set up camp. Trouble is, there’s no water, not even bitter water. And the people – well, let’s just say they weren’t pleased.
“Moses,” they cried, “give us water to drink?” Come on, man, it’s a basic thing. You’re in charge Moses, sort it out!
Thing is, what upset me was there was no thought of asking God.
Despite the fantastic breakout from Egypt and the miracles of the past few weeks, they still don’t think of looking to, or even for, God in this or any other situation. Instead it’s all about me and my leadership. They basically accused me of this whole thing being one huge evil plot! “You brought us out of Egypt for this?” they taunted. “To kill us and our children and our animals with thirst? Thanks a lot, Moses. (Fraser) We’re all doomed!!”
To be fair, their shouting and the handful of rocks being collected got to me. And I could understand, I completely sympathise on one level. All of the promise and the possibility that I told them about in Egypt had turned into desolation and waste. We left a land whose very name means “many waters” and wound up in Nowheresville with no water!
But I wouldn’t have minded so much if they’d just stopped to think about what we’d been through together but no – they just forget all about the escape and the miraculous banquet that keeps showing up and start picking up stones & making threats. Sometimes I wonder if they actually believe in God at all, or just see me as some kind of rebel leader/babysitter combo.
So I lost my rag a bit. “Why are you arguing with me?” I yelled. “Why are you testing God?”
“Testing God?” they said. “We never thought of that! We’re just thirsty. Is that a sin?”
But to me that’s the whole point. They can’t seem to grasp that questioning me out here is really a way of questioning God. Is God really there? Can God really do something?
So I pleaded with God. “Listen, they’re about to stone me – what do I do?!”
And there He was. Not a trace of anger in His voice. No chastising or despair. Just simple orders to be followed and gentle reminders of past deliverance. “Go, Moses,” God said. “Go on ahead of the people with some of the elders. And that staff that you struck the Nile with — do you remember that? Take it with you. And I will be there waiting for you on a rock at a place called Horeb. You remember Horeb don’t you, Moses? I’ll be there. The people may doubt my presence here, but I’ll be there. Strike that rock and water will come out and the people can drink.”
Its interesting God chose to bring up what happened in Egypt while sorting this out. Remember, when I struck the Nile with this staff it caused death and pollution. Now, in the desert, I strike the rock and BANG! Out comes water. It’s amazing how something as ordinary as bread and drink, approached in the right way, can lead to something amazing – an encounter with God Himself!
So I called the place Massah, which means testing, and Meribah, which means quarreling, because for me none of this was about being thirsty and having no water – it was about the people of God questioning God’s very presence among them. Though they never used the words, they were basically asking, “Is God here or not?”
And, if I’m honest, I know that’s a good question to ask in the desert. In the midst of harshness and emptiness, is God really present at all? In the middle of muddles and messes and major disappointments, is God there or not?
Because for me, he world is painfully full of God’s presence. I’ve tried to abandon it, to refuse His calling, because at that moment, as I gazed into the burning bush, I truly couldn’t see how I could bear the sight – the amazing, awesome glory of God. But my eyes were changed forever, and now my job, my task, is to share the vision of what I’ve seen.
So despite the frustrations, the physical struggles and even the threats, I really want to give these people a sense that we live in more than a purely material world. They’re not wrong to be thirsty or hungry or scared or frustrated – and God dealt directly with their physical needs. It’s just what they failed to see was a God-filled world wrought with wonder and wild holiness. They see only emptiness. I see a God who often comes to us in our most troubled moments, a God who comes to provide, not only water, but living water.
I’m starting to think wandering in this wilderness helps us learn more about who we really are – as individuals and as a body of people. It feels very much like all of this is meant to teach us to radically trust in a God for everything.
The thing with the manna seems to say we should be looking to Him all the time, not just for the big things or on special occasions – even asking him for our daily bread! And the rock, well, to make water flow in the desert surely means He can make even the driest and most barren place full of life.
There’s nothing we can do, in our own strength, to save ourselves from the situation we’re in. We need to trust fully in Him who saved us, He who loves us.
I suppose at least by the time this is over we can re-tell our story. That way nobody else has to make the same mistakes we have…