W E’RE ON a summer road trip. It’s been pretty exciting so far. We took the long, dusty road with Abraham and Sarah as they traveled to live as immigrants in a strange and unknown land. Then we reversed course and traveled back to Haran to find a wife for Isaac.
Last week, we walked on dry ground with the newly freed slaves through the divided waters to safety.
We continue our road trip with the Israelites. We are in the desert, the middle of nowhere, and there is no water. It’s not the first time. There was the bitter water. God intervened and made it sweet. Then there was no food. God sent manna and quail.
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TODAY, AT REPHIDIM, complaining turns into quarreling. I get the frustration. A weary and downtrodden people leave a life of oppression — but a life of familiarity — and journey into the desert following a man they hardly know. Each step takes them farther away from the known and deeper into the desert unknown. They hoped to arrive safely in the land that had been promised to their ancestors, a land they had never seen. But now they’re not sure. Were they brought into the desert to die?
One hundred hours … is often cited for how long a person can typically survive at “average” temperatures without access to water. But desert temperature is not “average.”
In extreme heat, survival shortens to about 50 hours. Add to that walking long distances, carrying belongings, tents, and small children, and wrangling livestock along the way the timeline is reduced to as little as seven hours. One long day’s march on a hot June day without water is all it will take to finish God’s people. At Rephidim, they start to mutiny.
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MOSES IS TIRED of their quarreling. He goes to God, complaining about the people: God tells Moses to take the staff he used at the Nile River and to meet God on the rock at Horeb, from which water will flow when Moses strikes it with his staff. God brings water — and with it, life — to the arid wilderness.
Moses names the place, not after the miracle, but after the people’s doubting and testing: “Is God among us or not?”
This is a lesson at Meribah and Massah. When they are asking “Is the Lord among us or not?” they learn that indeed God is with them … God has never left them.
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THERE IS NO PLACE like the wilderness, or time of crisis, to put your faith to the test. What do you think? Don’t ever assume that in those wilderness moments when you wonder, “Is the Lord among us or not?” or “Is this what following the Lord gets me?” … don’t ever assume God is not present even when it feels like a God-forsaken circumstance or place. For the truth is, God may never be closer to you than at that moment.
Have you noticed that? It is not so much in the best of times when I am sitting beside the still waters and God is comforting my soul. So often it is in the worst of times — when I’m in a wilderness. It is then I have an encounter with the living God in a profound way — discovering God providing for me, guiding me and even leading me to a new stage in my faith journey — in my relationship with God.
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THE TRUTH IS, God has put the Israelites in a precarious position. God made them completely depend on God.
God led them into the wilderness and God says God will take them to a land that they’ve never seen, but they don’t know where that is, so they have to depend on God.
When they didn’t have food, God provides manna and quail for them. They had no way of feeding themselves. Now, they are thirsty, and once again, they have no way of knowing where to find water.
Once again, they are completely dependent on God.
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GOD CARES DEEPLY for each of us and helps move us from places of fear and doubt to places of trust.
God provides for us and reveals Godself to us, and then God asks us to trust when the good provision doesn’t come as quickly or in quite the form as we would like.
Look back, remember the provision of God in the past journey; it will come again in future journeys.