Grumbling at God: Reflections on Exodus 17:1-7

But the final verse holds something else for us. "He (Moses) called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites argued with and tested YHWH, saying, 'Is YHWH really with us or not?'" (Ex. 17:7). This story is not merely about YHWH supplying the needs of the people; it is also, and perhaps more importantly, about our conviction, or lack of conviction, that we are not alone in our wilderness and the ways we choose to prove the existence of our companion God. Please note that the place where water flowed miraculously from the rock is not remembered as "place of wondrous water" or "place of divine gift." It is known as the place of testing and arguing with God.

We humans demand proof of the presence and power of God, and some water from a rock, or the face of Jesus on a screen door or a tortilla chip will do just fine, thank you very much. Like those later Israelites on Mount Carmel, witnessing the vast victory of Elijah over the bloody priests of Baal, we want to shout, "YHWH is God! YHWH is God!" (1 Kgs. 18:39). Well, who wouldn't? Who does not jump on the bandwagon of the obvious winners? If water gushed out of a nearby stony outcrop, I would rush to join a chorus of "How Great Thou Art!" And so would you.

But the test of the Israelites is hardly over in the desert, and water will not always gush forth to slake their thirsts. There will be manna, but finally not quite in the way they want. There will be meat but finally not quite what they had in mind. YHWH is not at our beck and call, a kind of heavenly servant to jump to our every tune. It finally will not be we who will test our God; it will be our God who will test us to see if that God can finally find faith on the earth.

9/18/2011 4:00:00 AM