Once we commit ourselves to a journey toward liberation as the Israelites did, leaving the wilderness of grief or shame or bondage of any kind, we begin our journey by stages.
At some point along the way we may wonder whether it would have been safer, more comfortable, if we had never set out. We grow tired and thirsty; doubt and fear creep in. We feel tempted to pick fights and complain with those closest to us.
Imagine these folks, free from taskmasters, the last in a line of slaves, witnesses to miracles. But forty years is a long journey, and they wonder what God has in mind; whether Moses, Aaron, and Miriam have a plan; whether the great promises will be fulfilled. Then, the straw that breaks the camel’s back: There is no water. All their frustration, fear, doubt, and uncertainty spew forth, “Give us water to drink.”
The Israelites’ response is so human. When children are scared of the dark, they cry for someone to bring them water. When we wonder whether we have enough love to sustain our marriage, we complain about how our spouse parks the car or unpacks the groceries. In the wilderness of sin or the suburbs of Nashville, it can feel too scary to ask the deeper question, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
God knows the deep needs under our cries. God directs Moses and the leaders: “Go on ahead and get some perspective because the people aren’t thirsty; they are scared. They fear I have forgotten my promises. And take the staff. Remember? The same staff that turned the Nile to blood, that parted the Red Sea. Remember. I am with you” (ap).
So God provides water from a rock. God sustains us until the next stage with exactly what we need.
Gracious God, when we cry and quarrel and blame and despair, hear the deep cries of our heart, the deep need that we are afraid to name. Remind us of your presence and sustain us. Amen.
Three of the passages this week connect water and faith. In Exodus and the psalm, we read about the Israelites grumbling in the desert. Although they have seen God’s mighty deeds in Egypt, they have begun to question God’s provision for them. God provides water through Moses, but the place is remembered (and named) as a site where the faith of the people fails. In John, however, a place to draw water becomes a site of salvation for the Samaritan woman and eventually for the people in her village through her faith. The reading in Romans goes a different direction. Paul emphasizes the importance of faith in the face of trials and the fact that God brings salvation through Christ when fallen humanity has no other hope.
Read Exodus 17:1-7. How do your memories of God’s provision sustain you through tough stages of your spiritual journey?
Read Psalm 95. What object, image, or memory serves for you as a symbol of God’s faithfulness?
Read Romans 5:1-11. How have you found hope in stages of life when God is forming your character through suffering and endurance?
Read John 4:5-42. When has letting go of your expectations or rules allowed God to work freely in your life or in the lives of others around you?
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