Word of Encouragement (08/03/2022)

Pastor James
August 3, 2022

And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7)

Israel’s problem was not that they did not believe in God’s existence or power; it was that they could not trust Him even after all the miracles He had performed for them. Here in this “prayer,” we see why they were so frustrated that they quarreled with Moses (17:2) and accused him and God of trying to kill them with thirst (17:3): “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Why did they question God’s presence among them? Of course, they could not see Him. But was that enough to doubt God’s presence? “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Did God not give them the light to see during the day? Did He not give them the night to sleep and rest? Was it not God, who gave them the air to breathe? Who gave them life along with all the faculties to think and feel and communicate and love? Besides, did they not just eat the manna God had sent down for their sustenance in the morning? Did they not see the pillar of cloud and fire right in front of them, which had been leading them in their journey and which was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit? How could they doubt God’s presence among them?

I think we can see why. If they wondered about God’s presence among them despite all the obvious evidence that surrounded them, it was for the simple fact that they did not have water. This meant that every time they experienced hardship, they thought of it as a sign of God’s indifference or abandonment. We can’t judge them so readily for this, can we? We, too, are surrounded by God’s abundant and many-fold blessings. We have so much more and better than what we deserve. And yet, what is our response when something goes wrong with our lives? Do we not begin to wonder whether God loves us or not? Do we not wonder whether God has turned against us and is preparing a major disaster against us?

It is true that God is the Fount of every blessing. It is true that love desires the good of what it loves. So, we conclude that, if the almighty God loves us, He should make us happy. That is not wrong: God desires that we should be full of happiness and joy more than we do. The problem is our sinful hearts. We equate happiness with ease and comfort, not meaning and holiness (as in the unity of will and purpose with God, who made us in His image). We even find happiness in self-destructive pleasures. God cannot love us and allow us to find our happiness in the things that will lead to destruction. So, instead of simply giving us what will make us “happy” for the moment, God must teach us and train us to find happiness in what will give us true and lasting happiness. That is why God brought Israel into the wilderness: to teach them that man does not live by bread but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD (Deut. 8:2-3).

One way to do this was by allowing Israel to lack water and food from time to time. This would teach them not to take anything for granted, including daily food and water. They also had to learn that God was the ultimate Provider of all their needs, not nature by itself. Instead of getting all bent out of shape whenever they ran into hardship, they were to humbly ask their God to provide for their needs. But even more importantly, they had to learn to trust God for more than their physical, temporal needs. As difficult as it was, they were supposed to learn to find contentment in God even in lean times. This life will come to an end eventually. What good is it to trust God for this life only? Isn’t this why Jesus suffered, died, and rose again from the dead? God wants us to trust Him not only for this short, temporary life but also for our eternal life with Him. This means we must learn to trust Him even on our deathbed, even in our sufferings. May our confession be, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ...” (Heidelberg Catechism, #1)!