The Waters of Meribah
Numbers 20.1-13 (NRSV)
The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.
Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarrelled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you, and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.
So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him.Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarrelled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness.
Our reading today plants us firmly amongst the Israelite people, who are approximately 37 years into their wilderness walk.
Now right from the outset, I think it would be a completely fair question to ask how is it possible that the Israelites hadn’t learned, that whatever crisis befell them during their search for the Promised Land that God always made everything ok for them. After all God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to guide them safely out of Egypt.
He had previously provided food and water, irrespective of the crisis, on many occasions. it’s as plain as the nose on our faces, to see that God always met the needs of the Israelites.
Now there’s no doubt that the Israelites had been through some really difficult situations, but God had always been there for them. And as readers of this passage, it’s pretty easy for us to see how it all worked.
The Israelites would discover that they had a problem, they pointed out the problem to Moses. They then asked Moses to pray for them and their situation, and a short while later there would be a miracle. However, for some reason this learning didn’t land with the Israelites. For some reason, the plain as day, God given miracles, were a lesson, they appeared incapable of learning.
Sadly, our reading shows us that the Israelites, through fear, self-pity and self-interest chose to focus on the peril of their situation instead, of celebrating the joy of receiving Gods miracles.
Through a culture of toxic self-pitying they chose to continually complain and moan. How many times have we read of them, saying how much they regretted their decision to leave Egypt? How many times had they threatened to return to Egypt? How many times had they simply blamed Moses? And how many times had this cycle repeated itself?
Is it really so hard for the Israelites to learn what, on the face of it, looks like a very simple lesson? You have a problem, you tell Moses, ask him to pray, and God does the rest. Really, how hard a lesson is that to learn!
And what of Moses? He had clearly displeased God by not carrying out the simple instructions that were given to him. Moses decided, he needed to add to the instructions he had been given by God. He added a collective ‘rollicking’ for the community.
In Gods eyes this was essentially a sign of distrust. This from a man that had had a personal relationship with God for so many years. The consequence to Moses was that God felt that he had dishonoured Him. Make no mistake God was not happy here, and who can blame Him!
For the best part of 40 years, he had developed a deep and personal relationship with Moses. He had spoken to him on many occasions and performed miracles time after time. Think how upset you feel when someone doesn’t trust you.
The net result here is that Moses was told that he would not bring the community into the land the Lord had given them. The lesson here for us, when God speaks to us and tells us to do something, we must trust him enough to do as he asks. Do no more and no less, to half obey, is to disobey.
And look we can make as many excuses as we want to here, but to disobey is to dishonour. Moses could have made the excuse that Miriam had only just died, or that he was acting out of anger at the people’s distrust of God. But it is as we have said, to half obey, is to disobey.
Let us turn to our own lives, how hard is it for us to learn a lesson? I am talking about life lessons here, and our trusting of God. We can look at the Israelites and think they must have been a pretty dim lot not to have worked out that God was always there for them. But ask yourselves how many God given lessons have we failed to recognise or acknowledge in our own lives?
Today’s reading tells us that God was trying to teach the Israelites to walk by faith, but they constantly failed to understand the lesson and thereby they continued to react in fear. How often do we react in fear as opposed to faith?
As we reflect on this passage, we should remember that this is not just a story about Moses and the Israelites. It’s a story about us. Perhaps you see yourself in it? I know I do!
We all should have learned one lesson by now. God meets our needs and answers our prayers. We should know how to engage God in the problems we find in our lives. Firstly, we realise there is a problem. Then we need to bring our problem before the Lord in prayer. And this is the lesson we should have learned but may have not; we should expect Him to meet our needs!
Yes, we should expect God to hear us and to help us. How often instead, do we choose to complain, moan, threaten or blame others for our problems? How often do we sulk because we think God is not paying attention to us? How often do we vent our anger and frustration on others? How often do we make excuses for ourselves when it’s as plain as the nose on our faces that it is our obedience to God that is lacking?
When will we learn?
Please be my guide and help me to be obedient to your word. Give me wisdom where I lack knowledge, so I can understand how to trust and obey.
Local Missional Leader
(North West Hub)