It is so easy to read the narrative of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt and be judgemental about their lack of belief, isn’t it? They had seen miracle after miracle and yet here they are again, in a situation where they are calling into question God’s ability and willingness to look after them. They challenged Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v 7). They really tried God’s patience and sadly, because they never learnt to trust in God, they were unable to enter his place of rest – the promised land.
Psalm 95:7-11 urges us to learn from their mistakes:
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Yet despite their lack of faith and constant grumbling, God still provides for the Israelites. He instructs Moses to take the staff, through which He had already commanded the plagues on Egypt and parted the Red Sea, and use it to strike the rock at Horeb (also referred to as ‘the mountain of God’, Exodus 3:1 and 18:5). God remains steadfast in his love, not just blessing the rebellious people with water, but also affirming Moses as his chosen leader, in front of the elders, with his very presence. Verse 6 says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” Paul refers to this event at Mount Horeb in 1 Cor 10:3-4. He says, “and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” So, Jesus, in God, stood before Moses on Mount Horeb, yet also came after him.
In addition to resolving the problem of lack of water in a miraculous way, God was signifying a future time where his own son would be struck and release living waters. John 7:37-39 says, ‘On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” When we thirst spiritually, Jesus will sate our thirst and when we believe in Him, the Holy Spirit comes to live on the inside of us, transforming our hearts so that we, in turn, overflow with God’s love.
To go back to the introduction, then, do we have room to stand in judgement of the Israelites? Do we despair at them for failing to trust in God despite so much evidence of his loving kindness and provision? Or do we recognise the warnings in Psalm 95? When something untoward happens or we are suffering lack, do we moan and complain, adopting a victim mentality, just like our forebears or do we cry out to God for help to carry us through our trials and hardships, secure in the knowledge that he has before and he will again? Jesus died so that we could enter God’s rest – the perfect promised land of a life in Him, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a life of abundance and overflow. When life throws up challenges, disappointments and times of testing, we can be certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God goes before us, just like at the rock in Horeb, and has a plan to sustain us. All he requires is that we trust him.